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Pope Francis expresses ‘pain’ over discovery of mass grave of IP children in Canada

The pope said the event is a "strong call" for everyone "to turn away from the colonial model and from ideological colonizations"

Pope Francis has expressed sorrow and “pain” over the discovery in Canada of a mass grave for indigenous children in a former church-run residential school.

During his Sunday address, the pontiff reacted to “the shocking discovery” and expressed his solidarity with the people “who have been traumatized by the shocking news.”

The pope called on political and religious leaders “to continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and to commit themselves humbly to a path of reconciliation and healing.”

Indigenous leaders and school survivors, however, dismissed Pope Francis’ expressions of pain, saying the Church needed to do much more.

“We’re all pained and saddened. Who isn’t? This is a worldwide travesty,” Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, Bobby Cameron, told Reuters.

“How hard is it for the Pope to say: ‘I’m very sorry for the way our organization treated the First Nations people, the First Nations students during those times, we are sorry, we pray.’”

The discovery last month at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families.

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On Sunday, demonstrators tore down a statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, at the Toronto university named for him.

Kamloops survivor Saa Hiil Thut, 72, said people have not been held responsible for the suffering he endured during his years at the school.

“The culprits sort of get off scot-free,” he said.

“The pope won’t say, ‘You know what? I heard there was (thousands of) cases of physical and sexual abuse in those residential schools run by our church.’ He won’t say that. He won’t say ‘There’s 215 children in an unmarked grave in Kamloops and probably every residential school in Canada.’”

Children’s shoes line the base of the defaced Ryerson University statue of Egerton Ryerson, considered an architect of Canada’s residential indigenous school system, following the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the site of British Columbia’s former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 2, 2021. (Reuters photo)

The system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, forcibly separated about 150,000 indigenous children from their homes, with many subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition. Most were run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday the Church must take responsibility for its role in the schools. A spokesman for Trudeau declined further comment on Sunday.

The pope’s statement “does not go far enough,” said a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Sunday.

“(The) government calls again upon the pope and Church to apologize for their role.”

The pope said the event is a “strong call” for everyone “to turn away from the colonial model and from ideological colonizations and to walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition” of the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada.

“Let us commend to the Lord the souls of all of the dead children in the residential schools of Canada and let us pray for the families and the native communities of Canada shattered by pain,” said the pope.

Pope Francis, who was elected pope 17 years after the last schools was closed, has already apologized for the Church’s role in colonialism in the Americas.

But he has mostly chosen to make direct apologies while visiting countries and talking to native peoples. No papal visit to Canada is scheduled.

Visiting Bolivia in 2015, Francis apologized for the “many grave sins (that) were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.” – with a report from Reuters

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